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A Chef Moving in a Different Direction

Author: Mimi Pollack
Created: 17 August, 2017
Updated: 13 September, 2023
3 min read

Giselle Wellman has done a lot in the world of cooking in her 33 years, but she is now moving in a new direction, going from being an executive chef at a restaurant to executive chef of the San Diego Jewish Academy, a school in Carmel Valley.

Giselle was born in San Diego and grew up in a Mexican-Jewish family where food took center stage.

Wellman fondly recalls cooking dinners for her family from a young age. Her mother didn’t cook much, but her aunt did, and she was influential in Giselle’s life.

“She was the first person I knew who chose cooking as a career,” Wellman said.
After graduating from high school, she did a year of community college and realized her passion was cooking. She went to live with her grandmother in Mexico City and enrolled in a the Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, where she studied for one year.

After Returning to San Diego, she started her cooking career with an entry level position at Anthony’s Star of the Sea restaurant at the age of 19. She worked her way up successfully, reaching positions at restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles, and San Diego until she became an executive chef. She also participated on Bravo’s “Top Chef” cooking show in 2015.

While at her last job as executive chef at Pacific Standard Coastal Kitchen in Little Italy, she started to feel that she wanted to move in a new direction, so she parted ways with the restaurant amicably, and took a short break to reflect on life and her career.

She always loved working with kids and wanted to do something to give back to the community. This all came together when she was hired at the San Diego Jewish Academy in July 2017.

San Diego Jewish Academy is on a large piece of land in Carmel Valley. The school has an extensive garden with vegetables and fruit trees. When school starts in August, Wellman plans to have the students participate by planting and harvesting crops for their hot lunch program and composting their waste.

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She hopes that by working in the garden, the students will be inspired to eat more fruits and vegetables, in addition to being more environmentally conscious. There are compost gardens and bins, including one with worms, in the garden.
She wants to teach the children about a cleaner more sustainable lifestyle, and be a role model for other schools.

Wellman is excited to use her creativity and come up with recipes that “sneak” more nutrition into the food, like making macaroni and cheese with white bean sauce or nuggets with quinoa. Her goal is to make meals the children will enjoy, but also provide nutrients.

Another goal Wellman has is to collaborate with the local food community, and to buy produce locally.

Many times, farmers get stuck with produce they cannot sell, produce that is still edible, but imperfect. To that end, she is going to purchase “ugly foods” from the Save Good Food marketplace.

She is also planning on working with Coastal Roots Farm, a non-profit Jewish community farm and education center, who will help in the educational programs for the students.

Finally, this change of pace is personal, too. The restaurant business can be volatile, with restaurants opening and closing all the time. Wellman hopes to work at the school for many years to come. It will also allow her to have more of a personal life as the life of a restaurant executive chef can be all consuming and some work up to 80 hours a week. At the school, she can work normal hours while providing meals and teaching the students about where their food comes from, setting them on a lifelong path of better eating.

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